The United Way of Santa Barbara County is in the early stages of distributing more than $13 million in rental and utility assistance for residents hit the hardest by COVID-19.
The relief funding comes after a difficult pandemic year for thousands across the county, some of whom are experiencing financial struggles for the first time.
Earlier this year, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors allocated $13 million in funding to the nonprofit’s Emergency Rent Assistance Program to assist residents who experienced significant income loss during the pandemic. Since February, the United Way has helped more than 200 individuals and families and allocated a total of $1.5 million in funding, with plans to allocate the remaining $11.5 million by the end of the year.
“Families who are so desperate right now and facing obstacles are finding respite in this funding,” Melinda Cabrera, the United Way’s director of strategic partnerships, told the News-Press. “They’re able to put food on the table because they know rent and utilities are paid for.”
All county residents at or below 80% of the Area Median Income can qualify for the relief funding, though qualified individuals at or below 50% of the AMI will take priority, according to a news release from the United Way. AMI totals vary depending on the number of individuals residing in a household, and specific totals can be found at unitedwaysb.org/rent.
Upon approval, qualifying households can receive up to $6,000 over three months towards rent and utility expenses. Applicants can re-apply for funding every three months for a maximum of 15 months. The payments are distributed directly to the landlord and/or utility providers on behalf of the household.
Currently the organization has received more than 4,800 applications for relief funding, and officials are creating a more robust system that can process requests more efficiently, Ms. Cabrera said.
Despite a large number of applications, Ms. Cabrera said she still encourages people to apply because there is nearly $12 million in remaining funds that can be claimed.
“It certainly is a large number (of applications), and it did surpass expectations, but it’s just a testament to the overwhelming need right now and how COVID has affected many throughout the county,” Ms. Cabrera said. “It placed families who were already vulnerable in a higher category of risk.”
The funding for this program will remain available until Dec. 30, or until all funds are expended, whichever comes first. At the current rate, Ms. Cabrera said the United Way is hoping to expend 60% of the funds by the end of September.
All community members are welcome to apply on the United Way’s website, Ms. Cabrera said, noting that citizenship status is not a qualifying factor to receive funding.
For more information on the funding and to apply for relief, visit unitedwaysb.org/rent. After applying, individuals will be contacted by a representative from the United Way Family Services Agency who will review their application and request further documentation.